Getting Lean

Lean manufacturing is becoming the rule rather than the exception and MoldMaking Technology's 2003 and 2004 Leadtime Leaders share the steps they have taken.

Each month the winners of MoldMaking Technology magazine's Leadtime Leader Award Competition gather in this regular column to discuss industry hot topics. The award—designed to recognize outstanding U.S. moldmaking shops and their ability to succeed in today's global mold market—highlights a number of shops that showed outstanding performance in the following areas: leadtime, current and projected sales growth, innovation in the moldmaking process as well as innovation in the business side of moldmaking, technology, industry involvement and customer service.

This month our well-regarded Leadtime authorities discuss the lean manufacturing principles they've established in their shops—whether diving right into them full-force or adopting select ideas.

Steve Johanns, managing director, business development, Advance Tool, Inc. (Blaine, MN)
Last year, we were introduced to lean manufacturing by one of our customers. We put together a team that included the president, senior manufacturing engineer, lead shop foremen and myselfEthat participated in our customer's lean manufacturing training. We have since brought it back to our facility and have empowered lean champions to begin finding opportunities to implement lean initiatives. We hold weekly lean meetings where ideas are vetted with the lean team. Our focus is on three key initiatives—all of which tie into lean manufacturing: productivity, leadtime and standardization.

At the end of the day, it is all about managing our Cost of Goods (COGs) by increasing value to our customers while driving out inefficiencies. The next step is to put in place real measurements that hold people accountable and drive change toward continuous improvement. As we always say, "Get better or die."

Jason Jepsen, Tech Centre manager, Eimo Americas (Vicksburg, MI)
Our shop actively employs and pursues lean manufacturing. We are approaching the two-year mark from when we began to get on board with lean. Originally, we were awarded a grant through the MMTC (Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center) that paved the way for us to get involved with lean. The MMTC has trained and mentored many of our employees since then, as we have worked toward transitioning into a lean culture.

Embracing lean has brought about many changes and transformations in our shop. The way we build a mold today is very different from the way we did it two years ago. It used to be the sole responsibility of the moldmaker to build a tool from A to Z. He did everything from squaring up steel blocks to final fitting. Today, we are much more departmentalized. We refer to these individual departments as cells. Each cell performs a very specific function of the tool build cycle and they each rely on one another for accuracy and timeliness. The establishment of these cells has inherently lead to a systematic procedure of checks and balances whereby work cannot be passed downstream until it meets specific quality requirements. The underlying theme of such a system is to create work centers where the employees are absolute experts at what they do. They can focus on perfecting and optimizing one or two aspects of moldmaking, rather than all of them.

Our history with this transformation is still in relative infancy, so it's difficult to speculate about some of the benefits. I will say that it has been a significant cultural change to which we must continually adjust. For us, the anticipated payoff is improved internal efficiencies, fewer errors and reduced leadtimes.

Tim Windingstad, operations manager, M&M Tool & Mold, Inc. (Green Bay, WI)
Our shop has embraced portions of lean manufacturing's practices; however, we did not feel all were suitable for us. We feel that in order to maintain the quality that we—and our customers—have come to expect, we need to ensure that ownership is taken in the entire tool. The pride in workmanship is very strong here, and if all of lean manufacturing's practices were used, then some of this ownership would be lost. A specific example of one of the changes we have made is concentrating on cavity and core inserts and outsourcing the mold base construction. This allows us to use our existing resources in a way we feel improves delivery, quality and cost.

Gene Bruce, co-owner, Summit Molds, Inc. (Post Falls, ID)
Our approach to lean manufacturing has evolved through experiences we have had in different shops as well as with our own company. We've worked in shops with halls, separate rooms and different machines spread all over the place and felt that this was not what we wanted. While planning our new facility five years ago we felt that molds under construction should be in the center of the shop with our machines built around the perimeter. We feel this has worked well for us.

Components—both machined and purchased—are placed on a shelf under the mold on the table where the mold plates and larger components lay. This helps us keep things organized and makes assembly and fitting easier. All of our programming is done at the machine. We have worked in shops with a separate room for programming; to us, this was a waste of space and creates almost a separate unit within the shop. All of our programming computers are networked to allow programming from any computer to any machine. As we have grown, we have modified locations of machines to better handle the work as it travels through the shop. I don't see this changing as our methods and machines change. We are always looking at new machinery and where to place it.

Kevin Harrison, vice president/general manager, Electra Form Industries, division of Wentworth Mold Group (Hamilton, ON)
Wentworth Mold uses a tailored form of lean manufacturing, which we instituted seven years ago. Our products and services are rooted with lean philosophies and we have implemented proprietary methods to deliver products to our customers. These techniques focus on quality, customer satisfaction and delivery performance. Coupling this criterion with selected components of lean manufacturing, and adding in some proprietary methods, yields our Fast-To-Market®(FTM®) programs.

These programs provide significant benefits to our customers. In addition to giving our customers a distinct market advantage, we find value for both the customer and Wentworth. Simply put, the customer gets what they want when they want it, and Wentworth is able to find the ever-diminishing cost savings to remain competitive in our volatile marketplace.

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